In today’s episode, I wanted to talk about how people handle the issue of a family pet when they are going through the divorce process. Much like when you have children in common when you have a family pet, there are two categories of issues that you want to think about addressing in your agreement. One is some kind of schedule for spending time with your pet, and the other is figuring out the finances of how you’ll share responsibility for financially caring for your pet.
I want to be clear at the outset that at this time, there is not a legal requirement, as compared to with children where there is, that you would speak to how you’re caring for, what your schedule is with, how you’re paying for, a family pet in your divorce agreement. The court does not require you to resolve that in the way that it requires you to resolve custody and child support with regard to your children. However, for a lot of people, they do want to figure out what is their mutual understanding about the time they will be spending with their pet once they separate their households and also how they will be paying for the regular ongoing and other one-off and sometimes bigger ticket expenses for their family pet.
Let me talk about schedule first. When it comes to figuring out your schedule with your pet, let’s say there are principally two approaches. One is to lay out a clear schedule for each spouse with the pet. It’s very similar to the way you would do with a child: week on, week off, or two weeks on, two weeks off. Whatever you come up with, I would say that the transition times tend to be a little bit longer with an animal. Anyway, you could come up with a schedule very much in the same way that you would for kids, one that works for both you and your ex.
The other approach is just to say essentially that the pet is going to live with this person, with one of the spouses, and the other spouse will have liberal visitation, or visitation as the parties mutually agree, consent not to be unreasonably withheld, or something that basically says, “Look, we’re not going to spell out an exact schedule. Our dog is going to live with this one of us, and that’s going to be his or her home. The other person is allowed to see the dog and spend time with the dog,” or the rabbit or whatever pet you have. You’re not going to spell out an exact schedule.
I will say often, people, when they have kids, they may say that the pet will go with the kids. It depends on the kind of pet. That’s a little bit more common with a dog. Maybe not a cat or a bird. With a dog, I see that not infrequently. If people do want to spell out a schedule for their dog, they may say that basically the dog will go with the children and spend time in both households in that way. Or you can leave it open and just say this parent is going to have the dog, this spouse is going to have the dog, if you don’t have kids, and the other spouse will be able to visit the dog on a mutually agreed-upon basis. So, those are your options in terms of scheduling with your family pet.
Then, in terms of finances, you want to think about the expenses related to your pet in two principal categories. One are the predictable, regular, recurring expenses. Food for your pet. Grooming, if that’s relevant. I’m going to say dog walker because I don’t know if there are walkers for other kinds of pets, but a dog walker for your dog. Those are the kinds of expenses that are pretty much the same month to month, pretty predictable, and don’t tend to be huge ticket items.
The other category of expenses would be more of a one-off kind of expense or on a non-recurring basis. Those might be, if and when you’re traveling, a large boarding expense for a pet. It might be a surgical expense for a pet or some kind of non-typical medical expense. I should have said in the regular recurring category, an annual, or whatever is normal for your pet, visit to the vet would be a standard expense that’s predictable, albeit not monthly. In the more one-off or bigger ticket category of expenses are medical expenses as well, but those are where something not necessarily predictable or expected, but you are having to incur a medical expense for care of your animal.
You want to think about, with regard to those expenses, how are you going to share them? Will they be the responsibility of one person only? Are you going to have one person take responsibility for the first X thousand dollars of pet expenses in the year and then you would say split it or share it in some other way thereafter? Or alternatively, do you anticipate sharing 50/50, or in some other percentage, every single expense related to your pet? If that’s the case, usually for the bigger ticket expenses, you will have some kind of requirement that you mutually agree to the expense before it can be incurred, so that one spouse is not surprised to find out that you spent $5000 on a spa weekend for your dog, which they would not have agreed to split with you. If you are splitting things, in any percentage really, you will likely want to have some kind of requirement of mutual agreement before you’re held responsible for the expense.
That was our episode on how to speak to a family pet in your divorce agreement. I hope it was helpful for you.